Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Spaghetti Carbonara

Spaghetti carbonara is one of my favorite pasta dishes, when made correctly. If you get it at a chain "Italian" restaurant (e.g. Olive Garden), you'll be presented with a pasta dish smothered in a heavy cream sauce and bacon. I used to think carbonara was kind of disgusting but then I had it in Italy, made with super delicious pancetta and a creamy sauce made out of egg and cheese and I was converted. This was on my New Years Resolution post as an oldie that I love to make but haven't blogged about yet so now I can check that off the list.

Ingredients [serves 4]:
1/2 lb (1/2 box) pasta - I used thick spaghetti; I suggest a long-noodle pasta like spaghetti, linguini, bucatini, or fettuccine
1/4" thick slice of pancetta from the butcher/deli section
1/8 onion, diced - enough to make about 1/4 cup
3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced (I used my garlic press)
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/3 cup peas, frozen or fresh
1 egg
1/2 cup grated parmegiano cheese

1 teaspoon black pepper (freshly ground, please!)
1 teaspoon salt for the pasta water
First, I chopped up the onion, parsley, and minced the garlic and set them aside.

I got my pancetta from the deli at my local grocery store. I just asked the attendant for one quarter-inch slice of pancetta. I like it thick because that's how the dish was prepared when I tried it in Rome. I started the pieces off in a cold pan and then turn on the heat to medium. Starting the pancetta off in a cold pan helps to draw out more fat.
To the leftover fat in the pan, I added in the garlic and onions and let them saute for a few minutes until they started to toast and turn brown. I reduced the heat to low to stop the browning but also keep the pan warm.
Meanwhile, I got my pasta cooking in some salted water. Once the pasta was cooked perfectly al dente, I reserved about 1/3 cup of the starchy pasta water and drained the noodles.
I whisked up the egg with black pepper and let it come to room temperature. If the egg is too cold, you risk scrambling it.
I grated the cheese and added it to the whisked up egg and pepper. Then I added in the pasta water and stirred it quickly to make sure the egg wouldn't scramble. This step is so important in making sure that a creamy sauce forms. It's called "tempering" a.k.a. bringing the eggs to a warmer temperature to prevent scrambalization (<- I made that word up).
I added the drained pasta to the hot pan on top of the onions and garlic, keeping the heat on low. Then I added in the egg/cheese/black pepper/pasta water mixture and tossed the pasta quickly using tongs. The noodles should take on a glossy and shiny look. Once the noodles are coated in the cheesy eggy sauce, I added in the peas and tossed to thaw them.
Just before plating, I tossed in the parsley and the crispy pieces of pancetta. Then I served the noodles with an extra sprinkling of parmegiano.
Incredibly delicious: the creamy sauce just barely coating each noodle, salty pancetta, and the freshness of the parsley make this dish perfect for me since I'm not a huge fan of pastas that are drowning in sauce.

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